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Patriots and Celtics analysis 
By nugent01 on Jan 03, 2014 06:42 AM
Patriots and Celtics analysis

Since 2001, eight of the 13 Super Bowl winners have come from the AFC. Throughout most of those years, the question was whether Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Ben Roethlisberger would guide his team to a championship. After all, the three men advanced the Patriots, Colts, and Steelers to a combined 10 of those games.

Over the last few years, though, there's been a gradual changing of the guard.

The conversation in New England has revolved around whether Brady's injury riddled Patriots have enough fight, talent, and late game pizzazz www.officialauthenticbengals.com/84+Jermaine+Gresham+Jersey+Cheap.html to get by Manning's new team from Denver if they meet again.

Perhaps there's a different question we should be asking: Does it matter? Jermaine Gresham Jersey Kids

In other words, can a team from the AFC beat the eventual NFC representative?

Entering the season, many pundits picked Pete Carroll's Seahawks to reach the Super Bowl and, to this point, it's hard to doubt they will. At 12 2 and fresh off a shutout in chilly New York, the Russell Wilson led offense is explosive, has overcome a number of key injuries to score the fifth most points in the league, should have Percy Harvin back for the playoffs, and they run the ball as well as anyone. The sophomore Wilson is accurate, efficient, and mobile (he has half as many yards on the ground as star back Marshawn Lynch). Defensively, thanks largely to Brady's best buddy Richard Sherman, Seattle has allowed the fewest number of points at 14.6 per game, and it has beaten fellow contenders from Carolina, New Orleans, and San Francisco. The 'Hawks are the best team in the NFL at defending the pass, obviously the strengths for the Patriots and Broncos, and you probably don't want to be reminded that they're the top defensive squad in the red zone to the tune of a 61 percent success rate. They also have the second best turnover differential in the game at plus 16.

The 10 4 Niners, winners of four straight, have been rejuvenated by the Week 13 return of stud receiver Michael Crabtree, who's proven to be fully recovered from his Achilles injury and a dynamic complement to Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Colin Kaepernick looks like a new man and he's scrambling more reliably than he has all season. Along with Frank Gore, they run with great frequency and success. On the other side of the ball, San Francisco boasts the third best scoring defense in the league. It's been nearly impenetrable since Week 4 with an average of just 13 points given up per game, aided by immense QB pressure. In that time, however, the Niners have suffered setbacks to the Panthers and Saints (by just a total of four points), though they escaped the Seahawks two weeks ago. On top of it all, San Fran did make it to the big game last year and very nearly won. Kaepernick and crew know what it takes to get there, and won't be intimidated if they do.

The Saints, at 10 4, are playing like their old Super Bowl winning selves with coach Sean Payton back at the helm. Drew Brees' passing offense (4,500 yards, 34 touchdowns) is second only to Manning's Broncos, but they don't run the ball particularly well or often. New Orleans does possess the league's fifth best defense. The club was thumped by the Seahawks in Week 13, but has managed wins over the Niners and Panthers. Yes, the Saints did lose to the Patriots, but we all remember it took a miracle from New England and remarkably bad play calling by New Orleans to bring that outcome to fruition. Their Achilles' heel could prove to be playing away from home (3 4) and outdoors (2 4), both areas where they've struggled this season. And, much like the Pats, they've also had their battles with health. Star wideout Jimmy Graham, while he's still over 1,000 yards receiving, has a partially torn plantar fascia and he's been held under 60 yards in seven of his last nine games.

The well disciplined Panthers despite my doubts in their hype earlier this season have the second best overall defense next to the 'Hawks, they get to the quarterback at an obnoxiously effective rate (45 sacks, second in NFL), they thrive against the run, and Cam Newton is a revelation when consistent. Carolina is 8 1 over the last nine weeks to improve to 10 4 and rise to contention for the NFC South title, which may be decided by this weekend's home meeting with co leader New Orleans the only team it has lost to in the last two plus months. Along the way, the Panthers edged the Niners in San Fran and, as we all know, outlasted the Pats in a controversial ending. Carolina's offensive weapons, except for Newton with his versatility, aren't overly intimidating, but the team is balanced both in the air and on the ground. The only real concern defensively is the secondary, which will likely get them in trouble before reaching the Meadowlands, anyhow.

Whichever of the aforementioned teams qualifies for the Super Bowl, and it will likely be one of the four, should be able to handle the Patriots, Broncos, or any other surprise entrant. All have the offensive ability and, perhaps more important, the defensive depth, an area that most AFC favorites (the Chiefs and Bengals, aside) lack. But Kansas City and Cincinnati fail to generally measure up offensively, all due respect to Jamaal Charles.

None of this is to suggest the Patriots are a bad team. If healthy, they're arguably the best and most balanced squad in the NFL. Problem is, they're not healthy not even close, and they won't be for the duration of the year. Jermaine Gresham Jersey Womens Without Rob Gronkowski, they've struggled in the red zone and their running game has not been as effective. Without several of their defensive anchors, they've been unable to make key stops, can't halt the run, and have allowed 26.8 points per game since Week 6. Merge those two realities and you have a team that's trailed in 12 of 14 games, relied far too often on late game heroics, and is a lousy 3 4 on the road with wins over teams that are a combined 11 31.

In spite of that, all of it, perhaps the Patriots could maintain possession of a first round playoff bye, win a home division game, march into Mile High and upset a powerhouse Broncos offense that also falters frequently on the defensive end. The AFC is that wide open.

From there In Bill We Trust? Sure. Any given Sunday? Of course. But, if you're playing the odds? It's tough to argue with the facts. They may just be lining up for second place.

It's mid December in New England, snow is on the ground and, after a flurry of moves in the week leading up to baseball's Winter Meetings, the hot stove couldn't be cooler.

The Red Sox, at least publicly, believe their heavy lifting is done. Pierzynski is the team's new collision free option behind the plate, Edward Mujica was brought in to bolster the bullpen and maybe relieve Koji Uehara of extreme usage, and everyone seems to feel pretty good about the youth movement.

Pick a shortstop, and declare it: Count me among those not interested in a reappearance of Stephen Drew as part of the 'Fenway 9' in 2014, but you knew that already. I didn't want Boston to give him a $14.1 million qualifying offer out of fear he'd accept it, and then I became worried when he rejected it because the team still seemed (seems?) intent on bringing him back on a multi year deal. Also, I continue to find it hard to believe a team would be willing to expend a draft pick for his services. At this point, I don't care that Drew couldn't hit my weight in the playoffs (.111 with two extra base hits vs. 253 with 13 homers during the regular season). With help from his defense, the Red Sox won the World Series and that's all that matters. But, Jermaine Gresham Kids Jersey now, it's time to move forward. We know or highly suspect Xander Bogaerts will be a member of the Opening Day roster, and I'm ready for him to be the starting shortstop. He showed flashes of brilliance in limited action last year and it would take Superman time to soar to his ceiling. Once Drew signs elsewhere for the multiple seasons that agent Scott Boras insists he'll receive, we can close that chapter and start anew. However, the club still must add an experienced infielder for the left side, and ideally one who hits lefthanded to balance the lineup and any platoons. I know, I know: Drew! I'm thinking perhaps someone who won't cost $10 million a year, but is more substantial than, say, Brock Holt.

Find support for Bradley: Just as the infield needs support in the chance Bogaerts (or Will Middlebrooks) falters, the outfield could use depth. I'm perfectly content with the Sox letting Jacoby Ellsbury walk to the Yankees on what I viewed to be a ridiculous contract, just as I'm interested in seeing how Jackie Bradley Jr. would respond to the everyday job. He's tremendous defensively perhaps a Gold Glover already but endured massive struggles offensively (.189/.280/.337) in sporadic MLB play as a rookie. He benefited from substantial time in Triple A Pawtucket (.275/.374/.469), though, and performed better upon his latter tours in Boston. While it would have been nice and intriguing to add Carlos Beltran or Curtis Granderson for the right money, Bradley's production removing power from the equation may not be worlds off next year for a fraction of the price. He has the potential to be an OPB machine. That isn't to say the Red Sox should suddenly adopt a full on "Moneyball" approach, but what's so wrong with giving a promising (and cheap) young talent a shot? Still, in the event it doesn't work, they'll need a backup plan.

Make an impact trade: It's a rarity, but Boston has a surplus of Major League caliber starters. From the six currently in their rotation (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, and Ryan Dempster) to the bullpen arms with the ability to start (Brandon Workman and Allen Webster) to the minor leaguers being groomed to start (Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes, and Anthony Ranaudo), the Red Sox are in a great position to make a deal. And, if necessary, a team that prints money is always able to take on a big contract for the right player. Matt Kemp was an interesting option, but the Dodgers have removed the oft injured All Star outfielder from the table, according to his agent. Andre Ethier isn't quite the same commodity. But is there a player out there worth adding who might cost a Dempster or Peavy, along with Middlebrooks and a prospect? It would seem so, and it doesn't feel like the Sox are done dealing just yet. As comfortable as I am or the organization says it is with two youngsters in Bogaerts and Bradley playing every day, I'm not sure that's so genuine inside Ben Cherington's office.

Sign Lester: It's a curious debate. The Sox have already picked up Lester's $13 million option for 2014, but what then? At 30 (on Opening Day), a lot of teams would line up to give a proven innings eater and playoff winner a hefty contract in free agency, and they'd happily surrender the compensation pick to do so. If you're John Henry and Co., what's the number to keep the veteran lefty around where faith in his durability and ace pedigree outweigh the occasional bumps in the road we've witnessed over the last two plus seasons? The team wants to extend him and he would make $20 million per year at least on the open market. It's all Monopoly money these days and that's not changing. I'd offer to rip up next season's deal and give him four years at $85 million right now. It's competitive and likely less than he'd receive next December. Plus, it's not my money.

Determine your leadoff hitter: Obviously, no rush here. This is a March decision, not a December one. But, it must be addressed now if that guy isn't in house. It's not Bradley. He's more likely a No. 9 hitter to start. Is it Shane Victorino? Daniel Nava? Or a mystery acquisition? Replacing Ellsbury isn't an easy task, but it's far more difficult to reproduce his production when healthy in the batting order.

Keep a big smile on Big Papi: A report surfaced several weeks ago that Edgar Martinez Award winner (for DH of the Year) David Ortiz with one year left on his contract wants an extension. Fortunately, to this point, that's the last we've heard about it. The Red Sox must keep this guy happy and away from moaning to the media, but find a way to do it without re upping him again. As a personality and a dominant figure in the city and to the fan base, he should be given a lifetime contract. Honestly, he's one of those guys you can envision living a portion of the year in Boston even after his playing days. But, hold him to his word. Ortiz said when he signed his two year extension prior to last season that he wouldn't bring his contract up again until the existing deal was on the verge of running out. Let's make sure, yet again, that his last efforts weren't a fluke and that Father Time isn't Papi's daddy.

Happy holidays! And, remember, Truck Day is only 57 days away.

What should the reception be at TD Garden when Doc Rivers returns?

Well, Chad, that probably gives you a decent idea of how I feel. Where do you stand on Doc's appointment in Boston? Hey! See what I did there?

CF: First, Adam, this should come with the standard disclaimer: He's not really a doctor, it's just a nickname. That was one of his standard go to lines whenever he was asked about an injury, and I'm looking forward to hearing it again tonight when he's asked about any banged up Clippers.

Hey, I miss Doc, and I hope he gets cheers. That 17th banner happened on his watch in 2007 08, they could have had another one or two along the way with better luck and health, and that was not an easy team to coach.
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